There are many variants on The Cuckoo (Roud 413)), a song and poem whose original author is unknown. The version reproduced here is that as sung by Anne Briggs on her first album from 1971.
The call of the cuckoo is unmistakable and represents for many the definitive sound of spring. The bird is surrounded by a rich folklore and is considered to have oracular qualities. The prophetic content of the call is said to include the number of years that you have left to live.
The bird is also the begetter of the word “cuckold”, meaning the husband of an adulterous wife, because of its’ habit of supplanting the eggs of other species of bird with its’ own.
As Shakespeare observed in Love’s Labour’s Lost:
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; and thus sings he, Cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo!-O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear! (Act V, Scene II)”
The words of the song indeed echo this pain of betrayal in a very effective way.
Sadly, in a tragically ironic reversal, cuckoo numbers have plummeted in recent years and there is a real risk that we will hear the iconic song no longer in future years.